Is the Queen a model mentor?

Weekly confidential discussions about recent happenings; and questions, allusions and comments from personal experience – the essence of good mentoring – might just be what the Queen provides for her Prime Ministers in their weekly audience. Does she have some lessons for current mentoring projects?

When David Cameron spoke recently about his weekly audience with the Queen, he commented on the value of being able to talk to her about whatever had happened in the past week, and to do so without any advisers present – a confidential relationship that the best mentors foster.  She has of course had sixty years experience of matters of state, and held such audiences with twelve prime ministers: in a way she has, like the best mentors, seen it all before. It is tempting to think that, as in public life, she makes no comments but simply asks questions – just as effective mentors seek to draw attention to aspects of the situation that they feel need it. On the other hand, it is easy to imagine that she might allude to how one of her previous prime ministers had encountered something similar – drawing attention to similarities that might provide a different perspective on the issue in question; or she might even have commented that ‘one had met so many young people recently who are finding it difficult to get work’ – emphasising the importance of particular issues.  But nobody knows what she actually says!

Another project has just been announced that requires mentors (young people starting businesses), putting still more pressure on the demand for mentors. It seems as though we are putting mentors into battle with little training and often no experience. There is a real opportunity here for action-learning.

The third round of Nesta’s programme of mentoring small businesses in the creative industries is about to launch. At the initial meeting of mentors (many of whom had also been mentors in the first round), a need for the mentors to meet together from time to time was expressed, both to learn from one another’s experience and to provide the opportunity for mentors to bring the expertise of other mentors into play – a nice example of mentors working as a group.

 STOP PRESS: In the second of Jon Bradford’s 13-week ‘Springboard’ Accelerator programmes (this one just finishing in London), he has adopted the same approach to the use of his large bank of mentors. In the first week, each entrepreneur meets a number of different mentors for 10 minute sessions, staccato style, and in the second, the entrepreneur and the mentors each choose whom they wish to meet – for a 20 minute session; and then it is open to the entrepreneur to seek whatever feed-back, advice and contacts he can (courtship by appointment!)

 

 

Drowning in information? Help is at hand!

The availability of  more and more information clutters our inboxes and flusters our minds, but help is at hand!

Google and Microsoft are both making use of personal information, behaviour and searches to enable our own searches to be focused onto ‘friends and people who might know’.

Waves of information and choice seem to continue to engulf us and we feel as though we are floundering in ever deeper waters. The Internet, laptops and iPads demand our attention; and the new and the special deal stare out at us at every turn – when we are not already answering our mobiles.

In these situations we turn increasingly to those whom we know and in whom we trust. While websites based on communities of interest are appearing, their outpourings clutter up our e-mails, they can be trite, and they often fail to sustain interest. We tend to choose a limited number of blogs that we use as our guides and our advisers. And we attend constantly to Twitter to tell us what might be of interest to us.

Avatars have been promised, so that we can sit back and wait while they ferret their way through the millions of websites that Google brings up, to present to us only the nuggets that we want!  My personal search Guru tells me that Feedly and Flipboard (among many other tools) make selections from content for you and show what are the underlying recommendation systems.

Just now, Microsoft and Google are both vying for our attention with new features on their search engines. When you search Google.com or Bing.com [says the Herald Tribune, May 24], you do not just get a list of Web pages that match your search. Off to the right, where the search results page used to be empty, you now see actual information about the subject of your search, carefully packed into a new, concise, attractive panel.

On Google, for example, the Graph panel displays a tiny dossier, usually drawn from Wikipedia – when you search for a well-known person, or character like Martha Stewart, Benjamin Franklin, Barney the Dinosaur or James Cameron. You get a capsule description, birth and death dates, spouse and children, awards, education, best -known works (books or movies, for example) and the latest Google Plus post, if the person has a Google Plus account – the information apparently drawn from Wikipedia, the CIA, World Factbook, Freebase and Google Books. The bottom of the panel shows what other, similar searches might interest you, based on the search behaviour of fellow Googlephiles. Microsoft is rolling out a similar Snapshot feature, in a similar position – which appears only when you are trying to spend money! It pops up for restaurants movies, hotels, events etc and gives details, including ratings and reservation links.

Bing has a sidebar which houses two lists: the first “Friends who might know” based on their Facebook profiles and on items they have liked (to whom you can send messages); the second “People who might know” – people from Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus and blogs, who have posted recently about your subject. Microsoft says that it will soon add LInkedIn, Foursquare and Quora to the second list.

But Microsoft and Google emphasise that these developments are but the first timid steps into a beautiful future – a future where search pages know what you mean, display exactly the information you want with one click, and even perform tasks for you.

And soon, maybe we will simply be able to ask Siri on our iPhones to do it all for us!

Mini ‘Accelerators’ go global

Mini ‘Accelerators’ go global. Essentially ‘tasters’, they are all just a bit different from one another

 Each of the many short start-up boot camps for entrepreneurs looking to create new businesses has a slightly different emphasis, so where might you begin? It depends on how solid is your experience, your idea or your work on it so far. (For more see Nesta’s The Startup Factories at http://goo.gl/XKjbK.)

‘Nairobi is becoming a hub for tech start-ups’, reports the FT; ‘at its heart is HumanIPO’s co-working space Startup Garage, which opened in February. Seed investor 88mph runs investment boot-camp weekends here – the best ten each receive $18,000 funding’.

Springboard, the leading UK ‘accelerator’ programme has been based on YCombinator and on Techstars in the US, and like them it is a 13-week programme; and while some new business development programmes have a longer time-scale (GSK in the UK and Rockhold in the US), Startup Garage is a one of a cluster of business development programmes which are shorter – some a week long; some of them only a week-end. Speed is of course compelling, and in to-day’s markets, essential; but which of these programmes focus more effectively on what aspects of the development process, and what might each learn from the others?

The first of these shorter programmes in the UK was Nesta’s ‘Academy’ – two single weeks of development, separated by a short interval, designed to help people start a new business rather than be without a job – with a guaranteed pot of funding at the end. This later became Starter-for-six, a successful week-long programme for young unemployed, which continues to be publicly funded in Scotland.

The second was Seedcamp, a week-long programme designed for entrepreneurs who already had a reasonably solid idea for a new business, that could be put to a large variety of mentors who would help the entrepreneurs to evolve and develop their ideas – by the end of the week into a marketable proposition, that they then had an opportunity to pitch to a collection of potential investors. 

Doug Richards’s (he of the Dragons’ Den) School for Startups starts by bringing together possible entrepreneurs whose interests are in the same sector – at ‘Meet ups’, and he has been offering lectures in starting-up, of a day’s duration, at a number of universities. This format may help budding entrepreneurs to find partners, and to meet other people alongside whom they might work to develop their idea; as it might help to provide an injection of enthusiasm for their task. And there are others like it, including Minibar, Groupspaces, and Open Coffee.

Rob Fitzpatrick’s Startup Tool Kit’s focus is on enthusiastic entrepreneurs who may not yet have any ideas for a new business. It aims to help you to identify areas in which you might seek to find a business opportunity; and the University of the West of England offers similar support to budding entrepreneurs.

In any technical area, identifying a good issue, and suggesting worthwhile business propositions to meet that issue requires a familiarity with the field which is hard to achieve in a week-end. The BBC’s Watering Holes, a week-long programme, first sought people who had ideas for new programmes, and then brought them to a week of development in which they worked with producers, programme makers, audience research specialists and directors to develop a proposition for a programme into one that might be marketable to commissioning agents. White Bear Yard and Betaworks in the US are similar – in producing and managing their own startups by providing intensive support (and sometimes external productions where there is a fit with their expertise).

‘Lean Startups’ emphasises the need for speed by espousing the concept of ‘affordable losses’ – how much can you afford to lose before you need to turn the tide. And while many programmes seek to inject enthusiasm and hope and emphasise the need for commitment and dedication, Lean Startups might seem perverse in encouraging you to fail early and fail often, with rapid iteration and customer feed-back – possible over a week-end with internet based opportunities, but not for physical products or services. Finding an indicator that might trigger further funding (a mock-up/potential customers/an actual buyer) does not always match up with one’s predictions or one’s cash-flow. Other start-up schools include The Founder Institute and Startups@techHub at Shoreditch.

General Assembly in the US and now in Berlin, has been more about providing co-working space and ‘application-based, goal-oriented business education’. While similarities are often the magnet that draws people together, Watershed Bristol (and other incubators) look to ensure that their are some potentially fruitful differences among their incubatees; and working spaces need to be intimate enough for people to meet by chance – the best place often the communal ‘kitchen’. Plug and Play in the US, and Google and Talktalk in the UK are in the same field – of offering communal workspaces.

A component of many accelerator-type programmes is education about business, notably about finance, marketing and IP. 13-week programmes like Accelerator Academy and Bethnal Green Ventures both hold weekly meetings for their entrepreneurs which include lectures and teaching around business subjects, but a week of learning is hardly a substitute for a life-time; and a week-end can do little more than offer a few (sometimes misleading) tips.

If investors are attracted more by personality and achievements than by business ideas and propositions, it is hard to make more than a superficial assessment of the former in a week-end or even a week. Even gung-ho venture capitalists would think twice about investing $18,000 in ten people, as has Mr 88mph in Nairobi, after only a week-end’s acquain-tance; better to take a small option and fund say a week’s or a 13-week’s further programme, a way forward often favoured by wise entrepreneurs in any case.

 

Copyright John Whatmore                                                                                June 2012

Nesta Associate                                                      The Centre for Leadership in Creativity

 

 

 

 

 

An extreme example of Innovation Workshops

Teams from a big corporate set out to help a number of charities with their problems; and generate an impressive collection of outcomes from a process that had been heavily adapted to meet an extraordinarily wide variety of objectives.

      I always enjoy running problem-solving and innovation workshops because they are at the same time both fun and productive, so to have four simultaneous workshops was a challenge, not least because I had no control over the teams and because the beneficiaries were all charities. Over the last two years I have encountered at least forty different kinds of such workshops in a study I have been carrying out with the Royal College of Art (see “Innovation Workshops: what they do and how they do it” http://goo.gl/kqSBt), but none of them quite like this one.

            The teams were provided by a large corporate whose innovation workshops (which they call ‘hothouses’) are highly developed and major events. But these teams were part of the corporate’s social responsibility contribution, and while the corporate saw these events as a development opportunity for their participants, they themselves saw it as an opportunity to give something back, and in some cases a bit of a ‘day out’!

The charities had been found by VolunteeringEngland – an infrastructure organisation whose remit is the development of volunteering, and actively encourages and facilitates supported volunteering – on this occasion working with two Volunteer Centres, for which centres VolunteeringEngland is the membership body.

We had worked with the representatives of these charities to help them to describe themselves and the problem that they would bring to the table. They wrote copiously about the former, but they had found the latter difficult to do, perhaps either because they were too close to it, or else because they were baffled by it.

The members of one of the corporate’s teams all came from the same section of the corporate and so already knew each other well; the members of another worked together but their expertise was quite unrelated to the problem of the charity with which they would work, and another was made up of people who had never met before. Not only were the members of these teams not chosen in relation to the problem with which they would have to deal, but none of their members (apart from the leader) were provided with any advance knowledge of the problem itself. And we had no knowledge of the leader’s experience in this kind of work, nor of their background; and little control over how they would manage the process of their groups.

            Despite all of this, they were remarkably successful. At least two of the teams managed to identify someone (in another team) who had the necessary specialist knowledge to make a major contribution to their charity’s problem – one a specialist on intranets, who helped a charity that had numerous offices and many volunteers, all widespread; another an expert on communications networks whose charity started by identifying a need for new computers, but finished with a number of off-the-shelf ways of running its communications networks. Another team came up with a large menu of ways in which their charity could raise its profile, and helped their representatives to find a way forward by suggesting that they start with a focus group that would gain commitment to their plans.  The Chair of one charity confessed that the discussions had enabled him to think completely differently about how best to use a member of staff’s time.

The task of one team, whose enthusiasm was palpable, was to help a local charity that had started a bakery – with the aim of replacing some of its cuts in grants with the profits from this new social enterprise. The team produced some carefully costed proposals that would enable their baker to earn the charity thousands of pounds, but did not touch their issues of implementation and management.

The corporate’s teams displayed remarkable versatility as well as their business skills and experience (two of them succeeded in cobbling together instant graphic presentations of their solutions.) And they evidently enjoyed a great day (as we all did!) The four charities were overwhelmed with ideas to take home, most of which were good solid solutions that they would not easily have found elsewhere. But most of their groups could have done more to tackle issues about how to implement those solutions – who could do that, how to go about it, what resources would be needed etc. 

            Both parties were obviously keen to continue contact and to contribute to furthering these solutions, but the format of these encounters did not have any formal ways in which the members of the corporate’s teams could keep in touch with the representatives of the charities, who were left to exchange cards and affirm that they would indeed ‘be in touch’ very soon.

An impressive collection of outcomes resulted from a process that had been tailored to an extraordinarily wide variety of objectives.

 

Tracking innovations in the development of innovations

Nesta’s work on Accelerators (The Startup Factories http://goo.gl/XKjbK) has been followed up with a series of reviews about developments in incubators, science parks and angel investing, as well as in accelerators (summarised below).

Reviews in progress include:

            Harwell’s incubator;

DesignLondon – the RCA’s incubator;

GSK’s incubator at Stevenage;

Northampton University’s social enterprise work and incubator;

BioCity – Nottingham’s private enterprise healthcare incubator;

IBM and Unilever’s Wellbeing business incubator; and

Telefonica’s considerable investment in incubators in several countries in Europe.

And we are aiming also to report tales of success and disaster from some of them – as they progress!

 In a separate Paper entitled ‘Design your own accelerators’, the elements of different accelerators are analysed. Available on request from the Centre for Leadership in Creativity (john.whatmore@btinternet.com).

 Reviews that have already appeared among Nesta’s blogs include:

 Springboard – a new ‘Accelerator’ programme for early-stage ventures

With its aim of generating in a very short space of time not just new products but new businesses, Springboard is only the third in the UK of a new generation of ‘Accelerator’ – a rapidly growing approach from the US. It makes use of over a hundred mentors. (http://goo.gl/7zr9J)

 Daresbury Science and Innovation Campus – a Phoenix and a new model

Mix together different disciplines and technologies, theory goes, and the sparks of creativity and innovation will fly; but many science parks (like incubators) have been more like property companies than crucibles of alchemy. The Daresbury Science and Innovation Campus (http://goo.gl/g92x8) has risen over the last seven years like the Phoenix out of a laboratory whose heart had been ripped out by the loss of a contract for the big new Synchrotron Radiation. It is a new centre of innovation and enterprise with an interesting model ( – centres of excellence in three fields of science: accelerator science, computational science and sensor/detector technology) beside a large number of hi-tech small businesses, all glued together by an ethos of openness and collaboration – just now is about to enter a more challenging but potentially yet more rewarding phase – attracting the interest of large corporates.
 
Oxford’s Begbroke Science Park prospers despite its focus on nanotechnology, where any UK lead seems to be slipping away

Oxford’s Begbroke Science Park, miles from Oxford, prospers even though leading-edge work on nanotechnology – its original focus – seems to be passing to other countries, despite its evident potential benefits.  Typical of businesses of this kind is that they cannot easily find the necessary level of funding, nor are they located close to relevant scientific facilities and manufacturing clusters. The TSB needs to recognise early on how best to proceed in supporting new emerging technologies.  (http://goo.gl/ABoex)

 BT’s R&D uses Hothousing in a big way                        

BT has for some time had special spaces designed to support small problem-solving conferences, used for ‘problems to fix’ and ‘[new] concepts to market’, but also for reviewing and developing strategy. They are now being used as the precursor for all relevant R&D team projects, where projects are divided into 13-week stages, and are prefaced by a Hothouse – an intensive workshop designed to search out new approaches for the ensuing stage of the project. (http://goo.gl/jjWfG)

Accelerator Learning Programmes – for very early-stage venturers are emerging, designed to develop their capabilities to the point where their propositions are of investable quality – among them Accelerator Academy and Bethnal Green Ventures). The formats of their learning element are very similar; but the mentoring element and their sources of funding differ – according to how commercial they are likely to be. (See http://goo.gl/44KKq and links to examples.)
 
Mini ‘Accelerators’ go global. Essentially ‘tasters’, they are all just a bit different from one another

‘Nairobi is becoming a hub for tech start-ups’, reports the FT; ‘at its heart is HumanIPO’s co-working space Startup Garage, which opened in February. Seed investor 88mph runs investment boot-camp weekends here – the best ten each receive $18,000 funding’. Each of the many short start-up boot camps for entrepreneurs looking to create new businesses has a slightly different emphasis, so where might you begin? It depends on how solid is your experience, your idea or your work on it so far. (For more see Nesta’s The Startup Factories at http://goo.gl/XKjbK.) And we report here on a number of other such mini-accelerators. (http://goo.gl/VYKhc)

 Can ‘Accelerators’ work for big companies where innovation times are inherently long?

Where ‘Accelerators’ focus on innovation-to-market, do they have anything to offer in those sectors of the economy whose innovation times are inherently longer? GSK introduced its new approach to drug development three years ago, with smaller multi-disciplinary teams, each focused more clearly on ‘discovery performance’, ‘with scientists back at the centre of the process’; and these new drug development teams have just faced their first confrontation with a senior management Dragons Dens-like meeting to assess progress and continuation of funding.
This new approach requires different management skills, and competition may erode the potential value of collaboration; moreover the single three-year stage-gate cycle is probably not appropriate for all such teams. Time will tell! (http://goo.gl/A6z8g)

Competitions becoming a significant element in the allocation of space in incubators


The winner of the recent Startup Weekend London, just announced, was Polarize.me – ‘a simple way to create an A/B question and distribute it to friends across all social networks – a handy tool in a start polling situation or even to help make simple decisions about daily questions.’ This was one of eighteen presentations competing for the opportunity to be fast-tracked in Telefonica’s incubator. What seemed to impress the judges at Google’s new campus in East London where it took place – described as a combination of inspiring space, working zones and presentation area – was the rapid prototyping capabilities that produced a decisive product, well presented and ‘perfectly formed for presentation’. (for more, see http://goo.gl/ddEf9)
 

Mentoring: supporting innovators in their early-stage ventures

A recent Nesta report on Incubators emphasises the essential importance of ‘fit’ – between the needs of incubatees and the provision of support and supporters. But it also depicts the challengers represented by the hugely changing and wide-ranging needs for support in incubatees (start-up/spin-out; hi-tech/lo-tech; niche market/mass market etc).  Five innovation projects are discussed, emphasising their different approaches to mentoring. (http://goo.gl/gV5kt)

Pressure Cookers for business – what next

From their origins in the 1940s to their latest embodiment as Accelerators in 2011, ‘Pressure Cookers’ in business have been getting longer and longer; but there are some that are even longer than these 13-week Accelerator programmes, like Springboard at Cambridge, which I recently caught a glimpse of. So what will happen to the concept of the Pressure Cooker? How will it change and develop?
I suggest here that some will be longer and some shorter; they will become specialised to different fields; longer ones will be split up into smaller bites; learning will be personal and on-the-job; and mentoring will become a team effort. (http://goo.gl/HJL6S)

Rapid growth forecast for Angel investing, but there are bottlenecks

Rapid growth in progress, limited only by the need to initiate angels into the field, by the Dragons’ Den type processes of selling investees to investors, and by short-age of syndicate leaders.  And in the longer term by the limited support that angel organisations offer to their investments. (http://goo.gl/MmGHy)


 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mini ‘Accelerators’ go global. Tasters but all just a bit different

Each of the many short start-up boot camps for entrepreneurs looking to create new businesses has a slightly different emphasis, so where might you begin? It depends on how solid is your experience, your idea or your work on it so far. (For more see Nesta’s The Startup Factories at http://goo.gl/XKjbK.)

  ‘Nairobi is becoming a hub for tech start-ups’, reports the FT; ‘at its heart is HumanIPO’s co-working space Startup Garage, which opened in February. Seed investor 88mph runs investment boot-camp weekends here – the best ten each receive $18,000 funding’.

Springboard, the leading UK ‘accelerator’ programme has been based on YCombinator and on Techstars in the US, and like them it is a 13-week programme; and while some new business development programmes have a longer time-scale (GSK in the UK and Rockhold in the US), Startup Garage is a one of a cluster of business development programmes which are shorter – some a week long; some of them only a week-end. Speed is of course compelling, and in to-day’s markets, essential; but which of these programmes focus more effectively on what aspects of the development process, and what might each learn from the others?

The first of these shorter programmes in the UK was Nesta’s ‘Academy’ – two single weeks of development, separated by a short interval, designed to help people start a new business rather than be without a job – with a guaranteed pot of funding at the end. This later became Starter-for-six, a successful week-long programme for young unemployed, which continues to be publicly funded in Scotland.

The second was Seedcamp, a week-long programme designed for entrepreneurs who already had a reasonably solid idea for a new business, that could be put to a large variety of mentors who would help the entrepreneurs to evolve and develop their ideas – by the end of the week into a marketable proposition, that they then had an opportunity to pitch to a collection of potential investors. 

Doug Richards’s (he of the Dragons’ Den) School for Startups starts by bringing together possible entrepreneurs whose interests are in the same sector – at ‘Meet ups’, and he has been offering lectures in starting-up, of a day’s duration, at a number of universities. This format may help budding entrepreneurs to find partners, and to meet other people alongside whom they might work to develop their idea; as it might help to provide an injection of enthusiasm for their task. And there are others like it, including Minibar, Groupspaces, and Open Coffee.

Rob Fitzpatrick’s Startup Tool Kit’s focus is on enthusiastic entrepreneurs who may not yet have any ideas for a new business. It aims to help you to identify areas in which you might seek to find a business opportunity; and the University of the West of England offers similar support to budding entrepreneurs.

In any technical area, identifying a good issue, and suggesting worthwhile business propositions to meet that issue requires a familiarity with the field which is hard to achieve in a week-end. The BBC’s Watering Holes, a week-long programme, first sought people who had ideas for new programmes, and then brought them to a week of development in which they worked with producers, programme makers, audience research specialists and directors to develop a proposition for a programme into one that might be marketable to commissioning agents. White Bear Yard and Betaworks in the US are similar – in producing and managing their own startups by providing intensive support (and sometimes external productions where there is a fit with their expertise).

‘Lean Startups’ emphasises the need for speed by espousing the concept of ‘affordable losses’ – how much can you afford to lose before you need to turn the tide. And while many programmes seek to inject enthusiasm and hope and emphasise the need for commitment and dedication, Lean Startups might seem perverse in encouraging you to fail early and fail often, with rapid iteration and customer feed-back – possible over a week-end with internet based opportunities, but not for physical products or services. Finding an indicator that might trigger further funding (a mock-up/potential customers/an actual buyer) does not always match up with one’s predictions or one’s cash-flow. Other start-up schools include The Founder Institute and Startups@techHub at Shoreditch.

General Assembly in the US and now in Berlin, has been more about providing co-working space and ‘application-based, goal-oriented business education’. While similarities are often the magnet that draws people together, Watershed Bristol (and other incubators) look to ensure that their are some potentially fruitful differences among their incubatees; and working spaces need to be intimate enough for people to meet by chance – the best place often the communal ‘kitchen’. Plug and Play in the US, and Google and Talktalk in the UK are in the same field – of offering communal workspaces.

A component of many accelerator-type programmes is education about business, notably about finance, marketing and IP. 13-week programmes like Accelerator Academy and Bethnal Green Ventures both hold weekly meetings for their entrepreneurs which include lectures and teaching around business subjects, but a week of learning is hardly a substitute for a life-time; and a week-end can do little more than offer a few (sometimes misleading) tips.

If investors are attracted more by personality and achievements than by business ideas and propositions, it is hard to make more than a superficial assessment of the former in a week-end or even a week. Even gung-ho venture capitalists would think twice about investing $18,000 in ten people, as has Mr 88mph in Nairobi, after only a week-end’s acquain-tance; better to take a small option and fund say a week’s or a 13-week’s further programme, a way forward often favoured by wise entrepreneurs in any case.

 

Copyright

John Whatmore                                                                      June 2012

Nesta Associate                                                                       

The Centre for Leadership in Creativity

 

 

 

 

Springboard – a new ‘Accelerator’ programme for early-stage ventures

With its aim of generating in a very short space of time not just new products but new businesses, Springboard is only the third in the UK of a new generation of ‘Accelerator’ – a rapidly growing approach from the US.

  Born of US parents and a UK initiative, Springboard is a new UK ‘Accelerator’ programme, launched in Cambridge and expanding in the Autumn of 2011 to a second location. From one such programme in the US in 2005, there are now dozens, funding hundreds of tech start-ups a year. So fast have they grown that Accelerators seem destined for a big future.

Their essence consists in five things (see Nesta’s recent report: The Startup Factories. http://www.nesta.org.uk/library/documents/StartupFactories.pdf).

1. an application process that is open yet highly comptetitive

2. provision of pre-seed investment, usually in exchange for equity

3. a focus on small teams not  individuals

4. time-limited support comprising programmed events and intensive

    mentoring, and

5. startups supported in cohorts or ‘classes’.

               After receiving over 230 applications, ten startup teams were selected for Springboard, (each with 2-3 founders per team) for a 13-week programme – of intensive development for their idea for a new business, each of which had access to a shared office space.

            The first month of the programme consisted of Mentor Days, a sort of speed-dating process, and Corporate Days. The first three weeks of the Mentor Days, it was twenty minutes with each of ten mentors per day, three to four days a week (there are around a hundred mentors involved); some of whom got teams to pitch, and then grilled them on eg What’s your unfair advantage? What’s your USP? Have you thought about this business model? Others started the meeting off asking, “Ok we have 20 minutes – what would you like my help with?” What they offered was a mix of (1) ideas and (2) contacts. From the entrepreneur’s point of view, Mentor Days seemed like a relentless grilling, with often brutal feed-back, and you do your work on your project in the evenings or at the week-ends. Other days featured Corporates (PayPal, Amazon, Microsoft, Google etc) or specialists (PR, Angel/VC funding, Law, Accounting), discussing trends, developments etc or about the doing of business. For the next two weeks, it was 40 minutes following up with selected mentors; and thereafter it was up to you to use your mentors as you thought best. The second month focused on building the products, and the third month on pitching the business. 

 

Recruiting the mentors       

Prior to getting involved in the programme Jon Bradford who runs it has a chat with each mentor about the programme overall and what commitment to mentoring would entail ie. pick one day to join us, and only return for a second day if there are teams they genuinely want to see again; pick one team if they want to stay on further, and expect to spend about x hours per week with them; but it is highly flexible, and mentors are free to offer feedback as they see fit; and the feedback each mentor offered differed greatly.

 

What startup teams get

          Teams are provided with seed investment at a rate of £5000 per founder, (ie at a total cost of around £125,000) which takes the pressure off the cost of living and eating during the period of the programme. At its conclusion, they have an opportunity to pitch to an assembly of business angels and VC funders what may then be a business with paying customers or an embryonic ‘product’, but they have no guarantee of obtaining any funding. Indeed, some teams opt to bootstrap instead of immediately raising a large investment round.

 

A model that confirms its promise; but depends upon support       

Jon Bradford has an extensive record of working with pioneering early-stage ventures. This programme seems likely to be a successful approach to accelerating web-based projects – in terms of generating new businesses (it has many similarities with Seedcamps, which has proved to be a burgeoning concept); but programmes like this do depend on financial support (from such as public funds, angels or the VC industry) and on extensive help from a large number of mentors (offered on a voluntary basis).